Stage II at New York City Center
During Ring Twice for Miranda, while witnessing the frequent long and drawn-out arguments scenes that pepper this play’s landscape, I was reminded of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. What kept your attention during that film’s interminable arguments among Warhol’s characters was hope of some kind of satisfying resolution. Playwright Alan Hruska is by trade a litigation lawyer, so he knows how to argue. Unfortunately his characters do not share his real life expertise. I kept saying to myself “come on, get on with it!” My impatience had me physically squirming much as I did when, eons ago, I first viewed Chelsea Girls! In addition, specters of the post-apocalyptic Spike Milligan/Richard Lester film collaboration The Bed Sitting Room floated about me. Absent from Miranda’s world was the clear social satire and whimsy which sustained Mr. Milligan’s long career.
This play deals with themes which hit home for me: What does one trade-off for one’s safety and comfort during dangerous times? What are the limits of putting up with manipulative, narcissistic, sociopathic bullies who are in control of your destiny? The play lacked transformative insights into these themes -- but it did offer something else that kept me interested and engaged until the conclusion.
The plot of Ring Twice for Miranda has Miranda and Elliot in the employ of “Sir”: quietly sinister, manipulative high-net-worth man who lives in a mansion in “the district” (over which he rules, in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan). Sir has deliberately brought forth the apocalypse which has caused the abrupt evacuation of Manhattan. Miranda is dressed like a chamber maid, and Elliot attired a butler, but neither functions as such. In their conversations are subtle allusions to having had a romantic liaison. They are bored to distraction waiting for their “rings,” to be called up to Sir. Being within Sir’s mansion, they have been spared the consequences of the evacuation (of which they are only aware of by unsubstantiated rumors). Elliot is called up and fired by Gulliver, Sir’s assistant. They argue. Gulliver is a haughty jerk. Elliot returns to Miranda and tells of his plight. They argue, and she--taking pity on him and the uncertainties of “the outside” departs -- with him. The “outside” is empty and dangerous. Miranda and Elliot argue about what to do. Two decidedly loud and vulgar Brits, Chester and Anouk, arrive in the first car our protagonists have encountered for the entire day. The Brits need gasoline, and have a trunk full of illegal drugs with which to barter for fuel. Miranda and Elliot argue with the Brits about getting a ride. Miranda’s bargaining tool to that end is telling the Brits where they can get fuel. They argue a great deal more with the Brits who eventually drive off to Sir’s mansion to secure fuel from Gulliver, leaving Miranda and Elliot on their own. Miranda and Elliot argue. The second vehicle of the day shows up with Felix, a plumber, who eventually reveals he’s been sent by Gulliver to retrieve both Miranda and Elliot. They return to Sir’s mansion to find the Brits have taken their places… What ensues is a great deal of additional arguing: the Brits with Miranda and Elliot, Elliot with Miranda, Anouk with Sir, Sir with Gulliver, and Miranda with Sir.
Ring Twice for Miranda is not particularly well written. It seems like the director Rick Lombardo did the best he could do with the material of intermittent quality. Even so, the play kept my attention, and there were merits in it beyond its problems and I remained seated. So what exactly sustained me to see this play through to its house-lights-up conclusion? First the setup is intriguing and I wanted to see where it would lead. Mr. Hruska did generate enough mystery to sustain me until curtain call and I enjoyed the play’s ending. Second, the talented acting, particularly observed in Katie Kleiger’s Miranda and George Merrick as Elliott. Ms. Kleiger, due to the sustained sincerity of her characterization, reminded me of one of my favorite actresses of old Hollywood: the beautiful and demure Phyllis Kirk (the lovely one, who survived to the end of 1953’s The House of Wax). Ms. Kleiger radiated an appealing humanity throughout the play, as did Mr. Merrick in his portrayal of Elliott. Both generated the kind of accessible vulnerability that had me rooting for them to -- somehow -- win.
In fact, all of the acting was top notch. The sinister sociopathic manipulative meany at the center to the play named “Sir” was bellicosely portrayed by Graeme Malcolm, always in his movie-house-curtain-colored red velvet bathrobe. Sir’s assistant, Gulliver, is played by Daniel Pearce. Gulliver is the quintessential stout “yes man” who gets “things done” and Mr. Pearce plays him to the hilt as the nasty overseer and ultimately the squirming loser.
Three characters fall into the domain of the stereotypical. (But, hey, the actors were only following orders.) The Hispanic plumber, Felix, played by Ian Lassiter, has a fine actor’s charismatic presence (but which is straightjacketed by the nature of the role). The goofy and annoying British (sounding) characters were utterly out of place in this play, but portrayed by able actors. Chester, an over-the-top UK knucklehead, is played by William Connell with intentionally wiry verve. Chester’s companion, Anouk, is portrayed by Talia Thiesfield, who appears have been instructed to do an imitation of Little Nell Campbell, of Rocky Horror fame (which she rendered perfectly).
Ring Twice for Miranda is a very handsome production both visually and sonically. Scenic designer Jason Sherwood’s set was spare but pleasing to behold. After hearing it the first time, I looked forward to Haddon Kime’s spooky atmospheric scene setting and scene changing music. Matthew Richards’ lighting design talents were skillfully applied. Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes set the right tone, from the conventional to the outrageous. (Sir’s bright red velvet robe deserved a program credit of its own.)
Other reviewers have been severe in their appraisals of Ring Twice for Miranda, and I concede that there is a place for that brand of assessment -- itemizing flaws in the plot, or in the direction, coming up with negative adjectives customary to those theater writers with high or even haughty standards they find rarely to be satisfied. Now if I find a play is insulting in its deficiency -- at what I call a “they should have known better level” -- I don’t hesitate in saying so. Perhaps I’m just eccentric, but I found Ring Twice for Miranda had enough going for it to warrant recommending it. All plays needn’t be superlative or perfectly executed or high-minded to be acceptable. Some can just be reasonably enjoyable theater, and that’s fine. - Jay Reisberg
For tickets and more information, go to: www.nycitycenter.org/
Photo credit: Russ Rowland
Mr. Reisberg is a UCLA film school grad, professional singer, comedian, and bon vivant at large.